Panel fence tips

A timber panel fence is a quick and easy way to mark a boundary or provide privacy: looked after properly it will last for years.

This simple kind of timber fencing consists of panels fixed between timber posts. There are two main types of panel : overlap and interwoven. These come in standard widths of 1.8m (6ft) with heights from 0.9m (3ft) to 1.8m (6ft). A less common type is the closeboard panel, which simulates traditional closeboard fencing constructed in situ from individual pieces of timber.

You’ll also need gravel boards -lengths of wood which go under the panels to guard against rotting : and post caps – wooden blocks which protect the top of the posts from rainwater. Buy concrete mix, if required, at the same time.

How much to buy

Work out the number of panels, gravel boards and posts you’ll need (allowing for as many gravel boards as you have panels, and as many post caps as posts).

A standard panel plus post measures I 90cm (6ft 3in), assuming you use 7.5cm (3in) square posts. Measure the total length of your proposed run of fence in centimetres, deduct 7.5cm (3in) to allow for the additional post at one end and divide the remaining figure by 190 to give you the number of panels you need to buy; you will need one more post than panels.

If you end up with a short length, check to see whether you can adjust the fence run. If not, you can cut a panel down to size or order a special sized panel.

Posts and panels should have been pressure coated with preservative by the supplier, but an extra coat of preservative or creosote is still a good idea, especially if you have to cut them down in size. Soak the bottom end of the posts in preservative for a couple of hours before using them.

Preparing the site

Clear the site of all obstructions, such as weeds, undergrowth, large stones and tree or hedge roots.

Mark out the line of the fence with small pegs and tough string. Put the first marker peg at one end of the run, stretch the line to the far end and secure it to another peg. Once the first post is in place, you can use this, plus a temporary post to secure a new line to mark the fence run.

If you are burying the posts in the ground, mark the position of the post holes using a spade and a piece of straightedge timber – this should be about 2.4m (8ft) long and have the width of the panels and the width of the holes clearly marked on it.

Avoid old holes from previous fences – it may seem tempting to make the most of them, but they will not provide adequate support for new posts. If the site of the new holes coincides with the old ones, re-position allowing at least 30cm (12in) to ensure you don’t hit old concrete or rubble, starting the run with a shorter width panel.

Putting in the posts

Dig post holes 60cm (24in) deep and 30cm (12in) square. Clear out as much debris as you can, especially protruding tree roots and large stones. Spread a 15cm (6in)


Layer of gravel or coarse rubble in the bottom of the hole to help with drainage and so prevent the bottom of the post rotting.

There are several methods of sinking posts into the ground. Which one you use depends on the type of ground you’re working on and how exposed the location is.

If the fence starts from a brick wall, fix the first post to it. Drill holes through the post and into the wall and fix it securely with several wall anchors.

Where posts are being concreted into place, it is best to put all the posts up first, using a timber spacer exactly the same length as a panel to position them; a fence panel itself can be used to check the alignment of the posts.

The concrete can then be left to set (with the posts supported by temporary struts) before the panels are fitted.

A spirit level should always be used to check that posts are vertical in both directions: use dry pre-mixed concrete (to which you just add water), allowing six posts for each 25kg (40lb) bag (two posts per bag if the holes are being fully filled with concrete).

Erecting the panels

Position a panel between two se-curely fixed posts and rest it on bricks or pieces of wood – the panel should be about 7.5cm (3in) off the ground. The gravel boards will fill this space later. Pre-drill pilot holes in the panel to prevent the edges splitting.

Checking with a spirit level to ensure it is perfectly horizontal, attach panels to the posts with nails or fence clips. Nails Drive 65mm {2Vix) galvanized nails at an angle down through the panel framework into the post at 45cm (18in) intervals at least three per panel. Fence clips For a typical fence clip, screw two (or, for fences over 1.2m (4ft), three) clips into the post, place the panel into the clip and nail or screw it in place.

If the ground is level, make sure that each panel is fixed at the same height by using a builder’s line tied between the first post and the last.

Finish off the fencing by fitting gravel boards and attaching post caps. Gravel boards act as a barri- er between the panels and the soil to protect against rotting. They may need changing every three to five years but this is still much cheaper than having to repair the whole fence.

Post caps direct any rainwater off the top of the posts and prevent them from rotting as quickly. An alternative (if, say, you are cutting the post down) is to shape the top of the posts at an angle.

Looking after your fence Give the timber a coat of wood preservative. If you use creosote, keep it well away from plants – it can affect them for months. Apply preservative every two years and inspect the gravel boards each year – they may have deteriorated and need to be changed.

If you want to change the colour of your fence, use one of the wide range of water-based fence treatments available. These come in different shades – from rusty red to black and green. Before applying the stain, scrub the fence lightly to remove any moss or lichen so that you get the best finish.

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